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Hell

This tag is associated with 14 posts

Bible Verses Edited for Eternal Conscious Punishment

The Bible has a lot to say about the final end of both the redeemed and the lost. It’s often said that the Bible is extremely clear on eternal conscious punishment–as though this is just read of the pages of Scripture and delivered as a whole doctrine to us. I have taken the liberty here of looking at a number of well-loved and well-known passages (and some lesser loved and known) through the lens of eternal conscious punishment, editing them as needed to actually support the allegedly biblical doctrine of eternal conscious punishment. Edits to the verses are in italics, to make it clear where editing has occurred.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believed in him should not have eternal life[the bad kind], but have eternal life [good kind].

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is eternal life [bad kind], but the gift of God is eternal life.

Matthew 10:28

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot make eternal the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can make eternal both soul and body in hell.

Revelation 20:13-14

The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is eternal life.

Psalm 9:17

The wicked go down to eternal life, all the nations that forget God.

Matthew 25:46 (The Sheep and the Goats)

“Then they will go away to eternal life, but the righteous to eternal life.”

2 Thessalonians 1:9

They will be punished with everlasting life and shut out from the presence of the LORD and from the glory of his might…

Jude 1:7

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They still stand today because they were not destroyed and serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

Psalm 37:8-11

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will live forever,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

A little while, and the wicked will be still alive;
    though you look for them, they will be found alive but suffering.
But the meek will inherit the land
    and enjoy peace and prosperity.

Conclusion

Eternal conscious punishment is not a “literal” reading of Scripture, nor is it simply read off the pages of scripture. To affirm it, one has to effectively redefine the meaning of “death” and other words constantly throughout the Bible. Generally, this requires the one teaching eternal conscious punishment to turn the word “death” into “eternal life,” for they believe that the lost are given eternal life, just a kind that involves punishment.

 

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Debate Review: Al Mohler vs. Chris Date on “Should Christians Rethink Hell?”

IMG_0691

Not hell. But it is a pretty picture I took with a kind of intriguing/ominous path.

I want to preface this post by saying I am by no means an expert on the topic of hell. I’ve only read two books on the subject and listened to several lectures. I approach this as one who is still learning and seeking understanding. I hold to what would be called in this debate the “traditional” view of hell as opposed to a literalist view of hell. That is, I believe hell is a place (spiritual? physical?) that is eternal; but I am unconvinced that the fire references made in the Bible are to be taken literally (i.e. how are they literal flames and yet the place is in darkness? – seems to me to be metaphorical language).

I was very interested in listening to this debate between the traditional view, as espoused by prominent conservative theologian Al Mohler and the conditional view (that of annihilationism–those who are unsaved are annihilated at the judgment [typically–please correct me if I have misportrayed this) as put forward by Chris Date. Here, I’ll offer a brief summary of major statements in the debate, followed by my own analysis. Note that these are my summaries of what was said, not necessarily direct quotes. I welcome critique and comments. Let me know if you listened to the debate, and feel free to offer your own thoughts! The debate may be found here.

Summary

Justin Brierly asked Mohler to speak on what he thought about the biblical basis for conditionalism.

Mohler- Anyone who speaks on a doctrinal question sees their side as more biblical, and I find the evidence for conditionalism wanting. We must also present the picture of hell which is that which should be presented to others–we have to see what the biblical picture of hell is. The biblical “meta-narrative” points to dual everlasting destinies–eternal life in a New Heaven and New Earth–and also for eternal punishment. The unified consensus reading of Scripture for the history of Christianity has been the traditional position.

Date– Regarding Matthew 25, the question is not the duration of the punishment but the actual nature of the punishment. The context suggests that the wages of sin is death, physical death and not living any more. At judgment, the conditionalist holds that the second death will be just that–death. Moreover, the alleged consensus opinion on hell has not been completely on the side of traditionalism, and in the last few centuries conditionalism has gained support. [Outlines the biblical evidence for conditionalism while citing a huge number of texts.] The preponderance of Scripture points to conditionalism. The concept of eternal punishment is correct; the question is what the nature of this punishment is.

Mohler– The normal Christian reading of Matthew 25 has been eternal conscious torment, not destruction. The infinite wrath and infinite grace of God are each being experienced. To say that eternal punishment is not an eternal state but just something that endures until it is taken away does not seem to be what the text itself implies. Humans have a life beyond this life–not an inherent right to immortality of the soul but because of the image of God in humanity–we are made for eternal life.

Date– Saying that Christ purchased eternal salvation for us in Hebrews does not imply a continued state of Christ forever redeeming; it was an act in time with eternal consequences. Eternal life is something only experienced by the saved–the punishment is death and its effect lasts forever.

Mohler– It is difficult to square this view with the actual texts. Rather than appealing to a different passage in Hebrews, Date must explain the parallelism in Matthew 25 regarding the phrase eternal–does it mean two things in the same context?

Date– Eternal means forever in both cases–eternal life and death which lasts forever.

Mohler– Substituting death does not explain away the parallelism in the text. The Christian church has long understood that this passage means eternal torment.

Date– That’s why it’s called the traditional view!

Mohler– The traditional view does not rest on isolated texts of Scripture but on the church’s understanding of the weight of the texts as a whole. There is no indication in various depictions of hell in which there is an end to the torment as spoken.

Date– Mohler’s interpretation is incorrect; the Greek can be taken in different senses in the places he cites.

Mohler– These interpretations are based on arguing that when we look at a text, we have to say it doesn’t mean what it looks like it means.

Date– Many Christians held to a conditionalist view in historic Christianity. Moreover, we should not forget that we come to the text with presuppositions, and such giants of the church as Augustine who held to the traditional view had a Platonic view of the soul which influenced their interpretation of the Bible.

Mohler– There was development of the doctrine of hell. Regarding Augustine, if we argue that Augustine’s view was due to Platonism, we have to see that his entire picture of reality was Hellenized and so his view of other important doctrines like the deity of Christ is undermined.

Date– Nobody is claiming that everything found in the Platonic view or the Hellenistic view is wrong. Scripture is the authority, however, not the culture. The Platonic view specifically imported mistakes into the view of the soul and its indestructible nature according to that view.

Mohler– Jesus held to what we call the traditional view. However, Jewish thought at the same time didn’t have much developed thought regarding hell, which is largely a distinctively Christian view.

Date– Jesus’ language speaks of destruction and seemingly endorsed the view of annihilationism through his use of language of destruction and burning up.

Mohler– Gehenna does not point to Jesus endorsing an annihilationist view because the use of that term was a reference to continued endless fire, despite being a distinct historic view. …Jesus spoke more about eternal punishment and hell than about heaven. Our understanding of the Gospel is impacted by a different view of hell. The urgency of the Christian message is undermined by the conditionalist position because it effectively removes any urgency for conversion because the materialist already believes they will just cease existing.

Date– Atheists often reject Christianity because they see the traditional view as unjust, which means that a conditionalist view has greater apologetic value. Moreover, the Gospel can continue to be presented as either the gift of life or the punishment of death. Conditionalism does not undermine urgency of spreading the Good News.

Analysis

It was edifying to listen to both presenters on this program and get a better idea about the differing views related to hell within Christianity. The speakers were each respectful and gracious–something that should be the case!

Chris Date cogently argued for and defended his position against major objections. I think one of the most pressing issues for the conditionalist/annihilationist remains the notion that, on their view, there really is no major difference between the end of the unsaved and that which the materialist believes will happen. However, it should be noted this is less a biblical challenge than it is a philosophical/theological one. Date’s defense of the biblical capacity for conditionalism was challenging to my paradigm as I think he presented some passages which do possibly read more easily on his view than on the traditional view.

I do think, however, some of Date’s claims were a bit of a stretch. For example, his assertion that Jesus endorsed conditionalist teachers perhaps goes beyond the evidence we have. Moreover, his style of argument in some sections was problematic because he simply through a number of texts out (without quoting the text, simply citing the locations) without giving any sort of context. Of course, this latter issue is more due to the format than a defect of his position.

One of the biggest problems with Al Mohler’s defense of the traditional view is how much he appealed to, well, tradition. It seems to me like the traditional view has a solid scriptural basis, and to appeal to the notion that the church as a whole has largely leaned towards the traditional view is inadequate as a defense. Thus, it was his method which I think was greatly problematic. However, towards the end he got deeper into the issues and I think made some solid points, particularly in regards to whether Gehenna necessarily entails the conditional view and on the seeming parity of the unsaved on the conditional view vs. their own position. That said, I think a stronger focus on exegesis would have been more compelling rather than a continued appeal to traditional church teaching.

Overall, I came out of this debate feeling challenged to consider my own position. I also think the conditionalist view is not, as some assert, clearly unbiblical. If one wants to continue asserting that, I think they must deal very closely with the texts Date and others cite for their position. One can’t just cite a single proof text and say that other texts must be reinterpreted in light of a single text.

What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments.

Links

Should Christians Rethink Hell?– The link for the audio of the debate along with some related links from Premier Christian Radio.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

*The image in this post was taken by me. I claim the copyright as noted below.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 6/6/14- Hell, Pterosaurs, cessationism, and more!

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I have once more found a number of excellent reads from all over the web before you, dear reader! Check out the list of topics: the continuation (or lack thereof) of spiritual gifts, a famous paleontologist–Mary Anning, gender and theology, wonder of God, and Hell. Oh yes, how’s that for a broad list? Anyway, be sure to drop a comment to let me know what you thought!

Does Cessationism Still Stand?– Cessationism is the view that spiritual gifts like prophecy, healing, and the like “ceased” after the apostolic period. Here, one author responds to a cessationist critique.

Mary Anning, Plesiosaurs, Pterosaurs, and the Age of Reptiles– Google recently had a celebration of Mary Anning on the search page. What’s the big deal? Here, Joel Duff explores some of the implications of Mary Anning’s discoveries about the “Age of Reptiles.” Want to read more on big lizards and time scales? Check out my post about dinosaurs, Noah’s Flood, and creationism.

Power, Gender, and Evangelicals: Ideas Have Consequences– What does it mean to say that “ideas have consequences”? Should women rely entirely upon men to shape their identity in Christ? Check out this excellent post exploring some if these and related issues.

Stars, sand, and God (Comic)- How important are you in the grand scheme of things? What does the massive scale of our universe say about God? In this comic, we are invited to bask in God’s glory.

Book Plunge: Rethinking Hell– The book Rethinking Hell asks us to do just that; consider hell as not eternal torment or punishment but rather annihilation. Check out this insightful review of the book.

“Love Wins” by Rob Bell- A Brief Review and Study Guide

love-winsI have spent a great deal of time evaluating Rob Bell’s controversial work, Love Wins. Here, I present a brief overview of my conclusions, as well as providing a study guide. I hope this will be useful to those interested in reading the book or who lead/participate in a group that are reading the book.

General Review

Over the past several weeks, I have gone through Love Wins chapter by chapter. There have been several positive themes found throughout the book. Of these, the ones most important are the notion that we often trivialize the message of the Bible into “getting in” to heaven and the argument that we cannot turn Jesus into a slogan or the cross into a symbol for whatever we like.

Bell has rightly brought the focus onto eschatology, something which is often ignored or avoided in modern settings.

Yet throughout my reviews of the book (see links at the end), I have noted numerous errors found therein. First, Bell makes errors regarding historical theology. He makes claims about the history of the church which are falsified upon closer examination. Second, his interpretive method is very problematic, as he will often take merely a single part of a verse (sometimes two words completely torn from their context!) in order to make an entire argument about how all of Scripture needs to be interpreted through his chosen phrase [see the review of Chapter 2 and search for “enter life” for a thorough analysis of this]. Third, his exegesis is problematic in still other ways. For example, he will often cite a single verse as an argument for a theological position, even though his argument is contradicted in the very next verse or in the same paragraph. Fourth, he fails to present his arguments. Instead, he chooses to simply ask leading questions. Although this is not problematic in itself, it is clear that this style is intended to lead people into the conclusions Bell wants without any critical analysis. If Bell merely stated his arguments, I suspect people would be more skeptical of his conclusions. Fifth, Bell’s method of argument, when he makes arguments, is often confused. For example, he will ask whether a phrase is found in the Bible in order to refute it. But of course, Bell’s entire thesis “love wins” is a phrase not found in the Bible.

Finally, Bell’s entire argument, once finally revealed, is found to be based around the notion that “God is love.” That’s it. He essentially creates a doctrine of God around just that notion, then defines it in human terms of a parent-child relationship, and then concludes that everyone will eventually be saved because God is love. This is a horribly deficient doctrine of God which does not take into account the whole of Biblical teaching about God. Unfortunately, because this is Bell’s central thesis, it seems the book falls apart upon closer examination.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend this book. Although it gives a few positive points, the major errors found throughout the text weigh against the usefulness of the book for study. I would recommend, however, that leaders in the church do read the book, as it has been so immensely popular that they are bound to run into it. I hope that my reviews and study guide [below] will be helpful for those who wish to engage with the book critically.

Study Guide Questions

General Questions

Let me be clear: I think these questions must be asked in any study of this book.

These questions are intended to be asked after each chapter or at the end of the book:

1) What arguments does Rob Bell present in this chapter? Are they valid? Were any arguments presented?

2) What questions does Bell ask that you feel are hardest to answer? Why? What answers did he provide?

3) Look up a passage Bell interprets. Read it in context. Do you think that Bell’s interpretation of this passage is correct? Why/why not?

Questions for Preface and Chapter 1

1) Do you feel comfortable talking about hell? Why/why not?

2) Can we know that a specific person is in hell?

3) What problems do you see in our culture’s understanding of hell?

4) If a word or phrase isn’t in the Bible, does that mean it is not biblical? Is “Love Wins” a phrase found in the Bible?

Resource: I review the preface and chapter 1.

Questions for Chapter 2

1) What do you think of when you envision heaven? Why do you imagine this? Can you support this imagery with the Biblical text?

2) Look up Matthew 19:16-30 and read it. What do you think of Bell’s focus on “enter life” as the thrust of this passage?

3) Consider popular cultural pictures of heaven or of heavenly imagery (Angels in the Outfield; All Dogs Go to Heaven; etc.). What do you think of these images? Are they grounded on Biblical truth?

4) Bell wrote: “Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death” (59). What do you think of this quote? What does it say about what we do for salvation? Do we live in such a way as to usher in our survival of death?

Resource: I review Chapter 2.

Questions for Chapter 3

1) What do you think Bell means by “there are all kinds of hells” (79)? Do you see this in the Biblical text he cites (Luke 16:19-31)?

2) Read Luke 16:19-31. What do you think of Bell’s analysis of the meaning of this parable? Why do you think this?

3) Bell argued that Jesus’ teachings weren’t about right belief but rather about love of neighbor (82). How does this tie into the theme of salvation by grace through faith?

4) Read Matthew 10:5-15. Does the text imply there is still hope for Sodom and Gomorrah, as Bell argues (84-85)?

Resource: I review Chapter 3.

Questions for Chapter 4

1) Read Bell’s statements about the greatness of God on p. 97-98. Why do you think he chooses to focus the discussion on God’s greatness rather than on specific texts? What textual support does Bell use to support this passage?

2) Bell claims there have been a number of views about the salvation of people throughout church history. Does a plurality of views make any view valid? BonusDuring the Civil War era, Christians on either side argued the Bible supported or condemned slavery, respectively. Does this mean a valid interpretation of the Bible is that it justifies slavery?

3) Bonus points: Look up the church fathers Bell cites to support the notion that his view has been at “the center” of Christian orthodoxy. Do these church fathers really support that view? Consider the following from Augustine (The City of God Book XXI, Chapter 17):

Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors…

Resource: I review Chapter 4.

Questions for Chapter 5

1) What do you think of when you picture the image of a cross? How have you used/worn/displayed crosses in your life? Do your answers to these questions reflect the glory and misery of the cross?

2) How have you pictured the “Gospel”? Is it just a way to “get to” heaven?

Resource: I review Chapter 5.

Questions for Chapter 6

1) How have you used the label “Christian” or the name “Jesus” in your life?

2) Read John 12:47-50 and compare to Bell’s notion that God is not about judgment. How do Bell’s assertions read in light of the context of the single verse he cites (i.e. “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.” [48])? Does Bell deal with this context?

3) Did Jesus come to overthrow religion? Read Matthew 5:17-18. How does this passage line up with Bell’s notion that Jesus was a- or even anti- religious?

ResourceI review Chapter 6

Questions for Chapter 7 and 8

1) Rob Bell focuses upon the notion that God is love. What else does the Bible tell us God is? Does Bell discuss these other attributes? What do these other attributes us tell us about God? (BonusCheck out 2 Thessalonians 1:6; Psalm 5; Isaiah 46:9-10; or use a concordance to look up various attributes of God.)

2) Bell’s focus in this chapter is on God as love. How does God respond to sin? Consider Psalm 5:4-6:

For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
 The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest. (Psalm 5:4-6)

3) Bell writes that sins are “irrelevant” (187). Did Jesus come to die for sins? Does this mean they are irrelevant?

4) Bell seems to argue that there are more chances after death. What does the Bible say about this? (Consider Hebrews 9:27.)

Resource: I review chapters 7 and 8.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4– I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 6– I review chapter 6.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapters 7 and 8– I review the final chapters of the book.

Be sure to check out other book reviews. (Scroll down for more)

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapters 7 and 8

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I wrap up the book by looking at Chapters 7 and 8. Within the next few weeks, I’ll publish a study guide and overview for the entire book.

Chapter 7

Outline

Rob Bell begins with an analysis of the parable of the Prodigal Son/Forgiving Father/Unforgiving Brother (Luke 15:11-32). He contrasts the prodigal with the older brother. The prodigal believes “he’s ‘no longer worthy’ to be called his father’s son” (165). But the father “tells a different story. One about return and reconciliation and redemption” (ibid). In contrast, the older brother sees himself as being cheated–he’s been “slaving for his father for years” (166). But the father turns the story around and points out he hasn’t been a slave–the older brother has “had it all the whole time… All he had to do was receive” (168).

Given this story, Bell concludes a number of things. He argues “Hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story” (170). This retelling assures us that we are loved, despite the way we choose to tell our own stories.

Then there is the notion that “Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe… and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever” (173, emphasis his). He asks “Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?” (174).

Bell continues to focus on this argument, arguing that there is something “wrong” with this notion of deity which is “loving one second and cruel the next… if your God will punish people for all eternity for sins committed in a few short years… [nothing] will be able to disguise that one, true, glaring, untenable, unacceptable, awful reality” (175). Thus, Bell feels he can conclude “Hell is refusing to trust” (ibid).

He continues, noting that the good news is better than merely the question of whether one will “get into heaven” (178-179). Instead, it is about “entering into this shared life of peace and joy as it transforms our hearts, until it’s the most natural way to live that we can imagine” (179).

Our sins are “simply irrelevant when it comes to the counterintuitive, ecstatic announcement of the gospel” (187). Indeed, so are our “goodness… rightness… church attendance… and all of the wise, moral, mature decisions” we make (ibid). Instead, what matters is the “unexpected declaration that God’s love simply is yours” (188). “Forgiveness is unilateral,” God doesn’t wait for us to clean ourselves up, but “has already done it” (189).

“The only thing left to do is trust” (190) Bell argues. “Everybody is at the party. Heaven and hell, here, now, around us, upon us, within us” (ibid).

Analysis

Bell is absolutely correct to note that the Gospel is about more than simply “getting into heaven.” There is a kind of gospel reductionism which changes the message of Christianity into heaven or hell and that’s all. It’s dangerous, and it distorts the proclamation of Christ.

However, there is something very bothersome about Bell’s arguments against the notion of eternal punishment. His entire argument is based around the notion that God is love, and that God won’t just change who he is. He continues to focus on God as love. Yet he does this at the expense of the rest of the Biblical teaching about who God is. God is not reducible to love. We can’t base our doctrine only on the notion that God is love, and therefore our ideas of what love is will define who God is. Instead, the Bible teaches us much more about God than that God is simply love.

But Bell is insistent on this point. He evaluates God through the lens of a human parent and argues that if God were a human parent on some views, we would want to put God in prison. Instead, he argues, we should see God as love… and apparently that’s it. That’s Bell’s God. Love. The Bible, on the other hand, does not teach us only that God is love. Consider:

For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
 The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest. (Psalm 5:4-6)

How does this fit into Bell’s analysis? Why does he refuse to address the fact that the Bible very clearly state that God hates wrongdoing? Nor does Bell acknowledge that one of God’s attributes is justice. God is absolutely just and we deserve God’s wrath. Period. Instead of even attempting to address these verses or the arguments around the notion of God’s justice, all Bell has done is argue that God is love and that anything else means God changes his essence. That is simplistic and borderline dishonesty. Bell his misportrayed the doctrine of God and invented his own, wherein only the verses about God being loving are those which dominate all doctrine. Again, he has created a canon within the canon, where the verses about love trump all others.

Another demonstration of this is in Bell’s declaration that our sins are “irrelevant.” Really? Orthodox Christianity has held that our sins are the reason Jesus had to die–as punishment for our sins. That sounds extremely relevant to me. Yet Bell, in his over-eagerness to argue that God is love, has vastly overstated his case.

God does not change (Malachi 3:6), but neither is God only defined by love. And even were God defined by love, that love would not be human love, which is what Bell has chosen to base his argument upon. Again and again he appeals to the relationship between human parents and their children. Yet God is not a human being (Numbers 23:19).

Not only that, but Bell’s assertion that hope continues after death is flatly contradicted in the Bible:

people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

What room is there in this passage to allow for Bell’s scheme of salvation after death? People die, and after that there is judgment. Period. It doesn’t say “people are destined to die… then to have hope forever and eventually come to heaven.” Where does Bell ground his teaching in the Bible? I simply cannot find it. Instead, he continues only to press the notion that God is love, and by doing so he creates his own Bible outside of the Bible which trumps the passages with which he disagrees.

As Christians, we must take into account the whole of Biblical teaching. We can’t just ignore the passages which don’t agree with our theology, as Bell has done. Bell’s entire argument so far seems to be a house of cards. It is based on a few select verses with an idiosyncratic interpretation. Moreover, he simply declares that God is love, and then uses that to counter anything he thinks is not loving. In other words, Bell’s concept of love defines his theology of God. That is a huge problem.

Chapter 8

Outline

In this very short chapter/conclusion, Bell calls people to trust God. He tells readers that “love wins” (198). “Love is what God is” (197).

Analysis

There’s not much in this chapter which hasn’t been said before. It is worth noting that once again, Bell defines God merely as love. That’s it.

Conclusion

Bell doesn’t speak to God’s justice. He doesn’t speak to God’s covenant relationship with the people of God. He doesn’t even mention God’s hate of sin. Instead, it is all about love. That’s all. That is Bell’s theology. I am forced to ask: “Is that really all the Bible teaches?”

I believe I have shown Bell is mistaken on any number of points. His emphasis on God as love is wonderful. We do need to make sure that is part of our doctrine of God. But Bell’s doctrine of God just is love. Moreover, Bell has defined that doctrine of love through human categories instead of divine categories. He ignores the themes in the Bible about God’s justice. Indeed he ignores explicit statements of God’s justice and hatred for sin and even sinners. Doctrine of God must balance these statements in the Bible, not use one to trump the other. Bell has done the latter.

Within the next two weeks, I will be publishing a study guide for the book, along with a general overall review. As always, let me know what you think.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4– I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 6– I review chapter 6.

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 6

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I look at Chapter 6: There Are Rocks Everywhere.

Chapter 6

Outline

Rob Bell begins with a number of stories illustrating how we often come into contact with what some people take to be God or some kind of abstract “love.” He ponders this and wonders “are we alone in the world?… what does any of this have to do with Jesus?” (142). He argues that the rock which Moses struck in the desert from which the people drank was Jesus, utilizing 1 Corinthians 10:3-5 and applying it back to Exodus 17. He asks: “That rock was… Christ? Jesus? Jesus was the rock?” He notes that Paul interprets the story to show how Christ was there.

Bell then turns to the notion of that “There is an energy in the world, a spark, an electricity that everything is plugged into” (144). It has been called the Force, life, “Spirit” and other things. Bell argues that there is such a force and it is found in the “Word of God,” for “God speaks… and it happens. God says it… and it comes into being” (145).

Jesus, Bell argues, shows “what God has been up to all along” (148). God is bringing all people together under Christ.

Moreover, according to Bell, “Jesus is bigger than any one religion. He didn’t come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that [sic] existed in his day” (150). Jesus came to draw all people to himself, a point Bell emphasizes through repetition and restating it in numerous ways.

Regarding this drawing all people, Bell argues for “inclusivity” which he defines as “exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity. This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum” (155). Jesus, Bell argues, leaves the door “wide open” which provides the possibility for any to enter.

Bell notes that we must wonder what people mean when they say “Jesus.” Do they mean “tribal membership, the source of “imperial impulse,” or some kind of “political, economic, or military system through which they sanctify their greed and lust for power?” (156).

No one has “cornered the market” on Jesus. We cannot contain him. Bell reemphasizes the importance of not pre-judging people’s eternal destinies. He writes, “it is our responsibility to be extremely careful about making negative, decisive, lasting judgments about people’s eternal destinies. As Jesus says, he ‘did not come to judge the world, but to save the world’ (John 12[:47])” (160).

Analysis

There is much to commend in this chapter, just like I pointed out in my review of Chapter 5. First, Bell rightly warns against trying to bottle Jesus in one form or another. It is not an individual denomination which owns Jesus. Second, Bell again makes the very important point that it is not our place to say whether one person’s eternal destiny is heaven or hell. We do not know how God may be working on that person. Third, he is correct in emphasizing Jesus as the “only way.” Finally, he is right to note how some people attempt to make Jesus into a slogan or a cry for some specific cause they are doing. Doing so undermines the message of Jesus and should be avoided.

Yet there are also many areas to critique in this chapter. First, there is the notion of questionable exegesis. For example, Bell cites John 12:47 to show that Jesus is not about judgment, but fails to cite the very next verse which states: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day” (NIV). Bell spends the whole section centered around 12:47 and how God isn’t about judgment, but rather “exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity.” One wonders, then, why he fails to read the next verse of the passage he cites in context. I find this a gross example of proof-texting wherein a part of a verse is ripped from its context and used to rant against the very thing the next verse affirms. The importance of looking at the entire context of individual verses is paramount, and Bell continues to fail to be attentive to the evidence against his positions.

Again, Bell emphasizes the notion of an “open door.” We discussed this at some length in my look at Chapter 4. Once more, the “open gates” in context show a city without any enemy. That is, the enemies of that city have been utterly defeated. Yet Bell takes it to mean wide openness in the sense that people can always come [and go?–does Bell imply that we can leave heaven if we so choose? Is our salvation not secure?]. He emphasizes this over and over again, but then he has yet failed to cite Matthew 7:14, in which Jesus describes the gate and the road to eternal life “narrow” and says “only a few find it.” Why this emphasizing on some texts while ignoring others? Certainly, we need to balance these Biblical teachings, but we cannot ignore one at the expense of the other. Bell seems to do the latter time and again. He cites a text out of its context and ignores anything in the text which goes against his own interpretation. He doesn’t interact with the other parts of the text, he just pretends they don’t exist. I find this highly problematic.

I am also wary of Bell’s statement that Jesus is beyond any one religion. Clearly, Jesus saw himself as a Jew. Making this argument would take me well beyond the scope of this post, but suffice to say that Jesus’ language and imagery regarding himself as the temple places him exactly within the Jewish religion. Yes, he interpreted things in startling ways which led Jews to call him blasphemous, but other Jews saw his resurrection and what did they do? They began to proclaim Christ glorified as the Son of God. Did Jesus really come to overthrow religion, as Bell seemingly implies? Again, such an assertion abuses the Bible. I say this in strong words because it needs to be said. What does Jesus actually say about the religious system in place at the time? Yes he criticized it, but when it came down to the core of the Hebrew faith, the Torah, Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18 NIV

That doesn’t sound to me like Jesus overthrew that religion. Instead, he argues he came to be the reality of that faith. Jesus came to fulfill the expectations of the Law. Again, Bell’s selective reading of the texts undermines the core of Christian teaching.

Conclusion

There are many positive things to say about this chapter of Love Wins. Bell has rightly emphasized a number of themes to which Christians should be attentive. We need to avoid making Jesus too small and turning him into our personal example or slogan. Yet Bell has also continued to perpetuate a number of errors, and his exegesis is very selective. The way he reads texts seems to have theological blinders on. When he finds the verse he wants, he uses it to trump anything else. We have seen how problematic this is in a number of examples. Next week, we will explore Chapter 7.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4– I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I look at Chapter 5: Dying to Live.

Chapter 5

Outline

Rob Bell begins by noting the ubiquity of the cross. Crosses are everywhere. But we can “inoculate. Familiarity leads to unfamiliarity… ‘Jesus died on the cross for your sins.’ Yes, we know. We’ve seen that… countless times. Anything else?” (122). Of course, there is so much more to the cross! Bell argues that we have missed much of the message of the cross by our cultural apathy towards it.

Bell then turns to the notion of sacrifice. He outlines very generally what cultures believed about sacrifice and then focuses in upon Christ. “Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice that thoroughly pleased the only God who ever mattered” (125).

He then uses this as a backdrop for discussing the work of Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross is ultimately the fulfillment of a number of expectations including reconciliation, winning the battle, etc. (127). Jesus is “where life is” (129). The cross and resurrection were understood as “an event as wide as the world, extending to all creation” (132).

Bell asserts that we need to think of the Gospel as a big deal:

A gospel that leaves out its cosmic scope will always feel small. A gospel that has as its chief message avoiding hell or not sinning will never be the full story. A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the “in-ness” of one group at the expense of the “out-ness” of another group will not be true to the story that includes “all things and people in heaven and on earth.” (135)

Jesus is the “source, the strength, the example, and the assurance” to us that death and resurrection lead us into life (136).

Analysis

There is much to commend in this chapter. Bell has masterfully highlighted the problems with trivializing the cross. It is easy in our culture to see a cross and react with complete indifference. Why is that? Bell rightly yearns to snap free from this apathy and see the cross for what it is: a symbol of hope, the truth of death defeated.

Furthermore, Bell is spot-on when he critiques the notion that the gospel is about living the right way or being “in” or “out.” The Gospel is more than any of the things he mentioned. A generous reading of bell in the passage block-quoted above shows his commitment to seeing the Gospel as applicable to all people: everyone is called to Christ.

Thus, I am left with only two very minor critiques. First, I am a bit concerned with the over-generalization on sacrifice, which I think has a deeper Biblical meaning than Bell outlined and also has a much broader spectrum of belief than he touched upon.

Second, Bell at one point mentioned the number seven and related it back to Genesis. He describes the creation account as: “In the poem that begins the Bible…” (133). Again, this is a very minor critique and well beyond the scope of his book, but I’d be very curious to see what Bell means by “Poem” here to refer to Genesis 1-2 (and beyond?). The Hebrew does not seem to reflect a poetic style, though it has a pattern with Days 1-3 relating to days 4-6. So yes, minor issue, but I found it interesting that he included this sentence with no real context when discussing numbers through the Bible.

Conclusion

Bell has done very well to highlight the importance of the Gospel message. He is rightly saddened by the fact that people have become disillusioned with the cross and its truth. Next week, we’ll look at Chapter 6.

Links

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4– I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I look at Chapter 4: “Does God Get what God Wants?”

Chapter 4

Outline

Bell starts the chapter by surveying a number of statements from church’s web sites regarding hell. These statements range from the unsaved being separated from God forever to eternal conscious torment. He seems to be pointing readers towards a kind of discontinuity between these statements and the statements about God’s power and love:

I point out these parallel claims: that God is mighty, powerful, and “in control” and that millions of people will spend forever apart from this God… even though it’s written in the Bible that “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4- seems to be NIV]

…How great is God? Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do… but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great. (97-98)

Bell asks a poignant question: “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants?” (98). He then goes through a number of verses focused around God’s love. He notes the parables in Luke 15 about people pursuing their desires and concludes, “The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever” (101).

Bell turns to the reason that many people think God may fail in his desire to save everyone. From the perspective of those who advocate the views he outlined at the beginning of the chapter, “love, by its very nature, is freedom… God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end” (103). However, Bell argues that “We aren’t fixed, static beings–we change and morph as life unfolds.”

Tied into this notion of the unfixed nature of our lives, he seems to hold that it is possible that people can choose to come to Christ after they die. He asks, “why limit that chance [the chance to come to Christ] to a one-off immediately after death? And so they expand the possibilities… [The chance is given for] as long as it takes, in other words” (106-107).

Bell then traces this notion through Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Eusebius. He goes so far as to cite Augustine saying “‘very many’ believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God” (108).

He argues that “central to their trust that all would be reconciled was the belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory” (ibid). Moreover, he argues that “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever…” (109). He notes that “serious, orthodox followers of Jesus have answered these questions [about hell and salvation] in a number of ways” (ibid).

Next, Bell turns to an analysis of the book of Revelation. he notes that the book ends with notion that the gates of the city “never shut” and infers that “gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out. If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go” (114-115).

Bell ends the chapter with what seems like a poetic inference. He goes into prose and concludes that: “[Love] always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins” (119).

Analysis

There is much to discuss in this chapter. First, it is important to note that Bell has done much to cause reflection upon the subject of hell. It is something that we as a group of believers need to be thinking on. Too often, the subject is cast aside. Bell has done admirably in bringing the topic to the table.

Moreover, Bell is correct to note that confusion can be caused by simply throwing statements on hell “out there” in a void. It is important to contextualize statements about heaven and hell and make clear what is meant by the phrases that are used in the discussion.

Bell seemingly just assumes that there will be more chances to “accept Christ” in the afterlife. His discussion of the possibility of people changing after death implies this perspective, but he has done nothing to establish it. Perhaps he will do so in a later chapter, at which point we will evaluate his argument for that perspective. Indeed, thus far his argument seems to be a kind of straw man: he asserts the notion that people are changeable beings even in the afterlife as a counterpoint to those who hold that people will continue to choose evil in the hereafter as though this choice is the reason people hold to the eternal hell view. Yet this is not the case; many who hold this position do argue that people will continue to choose evil, but the reason that people are condemned to hell is because they rejected the God, whose existence and power are obvious (Romans 1) in their lives. No one has an excuse (Romans 1:20).

Bell’s utilization of church fathers is problematic. I can’t help but think there is a subtle twisting of some of their views to fit his position. In particular, he cites Augustine as “acknowledging” that “very many” believed in “ultimate reconciliation of all people” (107-108). Yet Augustine himself categorically denies and denounces this position. In fact, almost the entirety of Book XXI of The City of God argues explicitly against this tradition, including Augustine’s arguments against Origen, whom Bell cites in the same breath as Augustine. I hope Bell was merely being sloppy here, but the impression I get is really that the uninformed reader would see this and assume that Augustine is at least in the same realm as Origen, which is very, very mistaken.

I hate to beat a dead horse here, but let’s look what Augustine says (The City of God Book XXI, Chapter 17):

Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors…

So we see that Augustine, far from being anywhere near Origen’s view on the topic, endorses the Church’s condemnation of Origen as a heretic in this regard. Yet where does Bell reveal this? Where does Bell interact with historical theology? No, he seems perfectly content to throw out a bunch of names out of context together and let readers make their own assumptions. I realize this is a popular level book, but I can’t help but be very worried about Bell’s style here. It is very misleading. Maybe he does note later in the book that Origen was condemned as a heretic for this view, and that Augustine endorses this condemnation, but considering Bell seemingly endorses Origen’s view, I very much doubt that he will reveal that it was condemned by the Church.

More damning is the fact that Bell is able to, seemingly seriously, say that “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever…” (109). I admit that I agree in one sense–there have been many universalists throughout church history. However, that view was condemned as heretical. Augustine upholds that condemnation in The City of God. One can hardly believe that Bell is capable of saying that this view is “At the center of the Christian tradition.” No, the church at large does not condemn this view as specifically heretical; but Bell is placing the view in a context in which it was condemned as heresy and then saying that it was the “center” of that tradition. That is  a stretch, to say the least.

Here again we see one of Bell’s biggest methodological problems: he simply introduces a notion, argues that there are diverse views, and then assumes that they are all equally legitimate. but this is simply mistaken. Multiplication of viewpoints does not mean they are equally valid. Furthermore, Bell’s lack of interaction with historical theology on this point, when he himself is the one who introduces several of the church fathers, is questionable at best. Moreover, he says these teachers were “orthodox” when in fact Origen specifically was far from orthodox in his beliefs, as even a cursory study of Origen would reveal. Origen lived at a time before certain views were made explicit, yes, so he in a sense gets a pass in that his theology was intentionally exploratory. However, many of his views were later condemned, including the one Bell endorses. For Bell to turn around and use Origen to support his diversity of orthodox views on the topic is seemingly dishonest.

Moreover, one must wonder about Bell’s analysis of the meaning of the gates of heaven as open. Instead of looking at this passage in context, in which the notion of a city with open gates would imply a city unthreatened by outsiders because all enemies were defeated (which fits much better into the book of Revelation), Bell states explicitly “If gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go” (115). Think on this for a moment. What Bell has stated here undermines the notion of security of salvation. Now I do not hold to the doctrine of eternal security; however, I do affirm that once people are saved and in the New Creation in heaven, they are not about to change their status. They aren’t “going” anywhere. Bell’s view here undermines the assurance of salvation. His view of “love winning” also serves to illustrate this point, for if there is “always room for the other to decide” we must ask: is there always room to choose hell? Can “love win” by letting us walk away from the eternal salvation we are promised in Christ?*

Conclusion

I admit I have been highly critical in this chapter. I have tried throughout so far to find positive things to say about Bell’s work, and as I noted, Bell does well in this chapter to center discussion around the hard questions.

However, there are numerous problems with Bell’s work in this chapter. His use of the church fathers is highly problematic. I won’t rehearse the arguments again (see above). Oddly, his view also seems to imply that we have absolute autonomy and the ability to simply walk out of heaven whenever we wish. That in itself is another great difficulty, for it undermines the assurance of salvation we have in Christ: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Bell continues to use the method of argumentation in which he simply notes diverse views on a topic and concludes that all are somehow equally at the table or equally valid.

Next week, we will look at Chapter 5: Dying to Live.

*My thanks to my wife for this point.

Links

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Understanding End Times Prophecy” by Paul Benware

uep-benwareUnderstanding End Times Prophecy by Paul Benware certainly deserves its subtitle: “A Comprehensive Approach.” Benware presents a lengthy tome defending his position, dispensational premillenialism (more on that soon), while also outlining and critiquing many other views on various eschatological concepts.

Wait, What?

Yes, I just used the words dispensational premillenialism together in a sentence as though it made sense. It does. That is one of the many views Benware surveys in the book. Before reading Understanding End Times Prophecy (hereafter UEP), I admit I could not have distinguished a dispensational premillenialist from an amillenialist. Nor could I have identified a pre-wrath view in contrast with a post-wrath view. Benware’s book touches all of these and more, explaining the various positions out there on the various eschatological themes while also providing a thorough critique of those with which he disagrees.

Outline of Contents

Benware starts by outlining some principles for interpreting Biblical prophecy. Primary among these is the notion that prophetic passages must be interpreted literally. Benware explains: “Literal interpretation assumes that… [God] based His revelatory communication on the normal rules of human communication. Literal interpretation understands that in normal communication and in the Scriptures figures of speech are valuable as communication devices…” and it is therefore “not… a rigid ‘letterism’ or ‘mechanical understanding of the language’ that ignores symbols and figures” (23-24).

UEP then outlines a broad understanding of Biblical covenants, noting that the covenant God made with Abraham was unconditional, and so must be fulfilled.Next, Benware turns to a number of passages which outline the Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants. These he discusses in the context of promises God makes to Israel which must be fulfilled.

The next major section outlines the major views on the millennium. Benware favors the dispensational premillenial view and so spends some time outlining it.The dispensational view focuses on the covenants found throughout the Bible. It holds that there are different “economies” of God’s working. These dispensations are not time periods, nor are they different ways of salvation. Instead, they are specific truths about how God chooses to work with His people (86ff). This view also holds that God will fulfill promises through Israel as a literal nation in the place that God promised them (88ff).

The premillenial view holds that Christ returns before the millennial kingdom. It holds that the millennium is a literal thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth. Thus, there are two resurrections: first, before the millennial kingdom; second, after the millennial kingdom. Israel factors prominently into this view; Israel will be part of the thousand year reign and will occupy the land that God promised unconditionally to Abraham (94ff). Benware argues against the notion that Israel has become displaced or fulfilled in the church (103-120).

Then Benware turns to the view of amillenialism. Essentially, this view holds that the “millennium” is non-literal and is being fulfilled now during the church age. There is one resurrection, and the judgment comes immediately upon Christ’s return. Thus, the current period is the millennial kingdom (121-137).

Postmillenialism is the subject next discussed in UEP. This view tends to be tied into the notion that we are now living in the kingdom of God and so will usher in a golden age through social justice or action. After this undefined point, Christ will return to judge (139ff). Benware is highly critical of this view, noting that it relies upon the notion that we will continue improving the world (yet the world seems to be falling farther rather than progressing); as well as its rejection of the notion of a literal reign of Israel (150ff).

Finally, Benware evaluates preterism. Essentially, this view holds that the events prophesied in Revelation and elsewhere have either all or mostly been fulfilled already. There is much diversity within this perspective, but largely it is tied in with the notion that the destruction of the temple ushered in the end times (154ff).

The next major area of evaluation in UEP is that of the rapture. Benware analyzes pre-tribulation; post-tribulation; and other rapture views. Pre-tribulation is the view that the rapture will happen before the tribulation period. Post-tribulation is the view that the rapture happens after the tribulation. These directly tie into how one views the coming of Christ and the millennial kingdom (207ff).

Finally, UEP ends with outlines of the seventieth week of the book of Daniel, the Kingdom of God, death and the intermediate state, and the final eternal state. An enormous amount of exposition and discussion is tucked into these final chapters. For example, Benware includes a critique of annihilationism.

I have here only touched on the surface of UEP. Benware is exceedingly thorough and has managed to write an amazing resource on the issues related to End Times Prophecy.

Analysis

As has been noted, UEP is a simply fantastic resource for those who want to look at the various views which are discussed in contemporary evangelicalism. Benware has also provided an extremely detailed exposition of the dispensational premillenialist position. If someone wants to critique that view, UEP will be a book which they must reference. It is that good and that comprehensive.

Furthermore, Benware provides a number of excellent insights through the use of charts. Throughout UEP, there are charts scattered which summarize the content of what Benware argues, show pictorially what various views teach, and more. These charts will become handy for readers to reference later when they want to discuss the issues Benware raises. They also help interested readers learn what various views and positions teach.

Benware rightly shatters false notions that Biblical prophecy is some kind of indiscernible mystery language which humans weren’t meant to think on. His care for making clear what the Bible teaches on a number of issues is noteworthy.

Unfortunately, there are several areas in the book which are cause for caution. Benware’s use of proof texts is sometimes questionable. There is great merit to utilizing a series of related texts after an assertion in order to support one’s argument, but upon looking up several texts that Benware cites to make his points, it seems that he often stretched texts far out of their context or even cited texts which had nothing to do with the argument he made in the context in which he cited them. For just one example, Benware writes “The second phase of his [the Antichrist’s] careerwill take place during the first half of the tribulation… During his rise to power he will make enemies who will assassinate him near the midpoint of the tribulation (cf. Rev. 13:3, 12, 14). But much to the astonishment of the world, he is restored to life and becomes the object of worship (along with Satan)” (300). Note that Benware specifically says that the Antichrist will be assassinated and resurrected. Now, turn to the passages that Benware cites. Revelation 13:3, 12, and 14 state:

3: One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast… 12: It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed… 14: Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. (NIV)

Now, where in this section does it say the Antichrist will be assassinated? Where in this section does it talk about the Antichrist dying and being raised to life? Strangely, Benware seems to reject the literal hermeneutic he advocates, and begins to interpret texts in ways that bend them  to the breaking point.

The issue of these proof texts opens a broader critique of UEP. Benware constantly insists upon a literal reading of Revelation and other prophetic texts, while also criticizing those who hold other views of using an inconsistent hermeneutic. Yet, as I believe I demonstrated above, Benware often goes well beyond the literal meaning of the texts and comes to conclusions which stretch them past literal readings. In fact, it seems that Benware balances an often literalistic reading of the text with a non-literal reading. Thus, Benware seems to fall victim to the very error he accuses all other positions of falling into.

An overall critique of the position Benware holds would take far too much space and time for this reader to dedicate in this review, but I would note that the conclusions Benware comes to are often the result of the combination of literalistic readings and/or taking texts beyond what they say that I noted above. Some of the worrisome issues include the notion that the sacrificial system will be reinstated (334ff); a view in which the notion that the church seems in no way fulfill the Biblical prophecies about Israel (103ff); hyper-anthropomorphism of spiritual beings (i.e. demons, which are spiritual beings, being physically restricted [130]); and the insistence on literalizing all numbers in the Bible (168), among issues. It’s not that Benware doesn’t argue for these points; instead, it was that it seems his method to get his conclusions was sometimes faulty, and the case not infrequently was overstated.

One minor issue is Benware’s use of citations. It’s not that he fails to cite sources; rather, the difficulty is that he inconsistently tells the reader where the source is from. Very often Benware block quotes another text (with proper end note citation) without letting the reader know who or what he is quoting. Although this may be better for readers only interested in the argument, it can be very frustrating for those interested in knowing where Benware is getting his information to have to flip to the back of the book all the time to trace down sources. The problem is compounded by the fact that sometimes he does tell the reader where the quote is from (for example, he’ll write “so-and-so argues [quote]”) while at other times he just dives directly into the quote. The inconsistent application here may be a minor problem, but it did cause major frustration through my reading of the text.

Conclusion

Understanding End Times Prophecy is worthy reading. It provides an extremely in-depth look at the dispensational premillenial position. More importantly, Benware gives readers an overview of every major position on the millenium, the rapture, and the tribulation. The book therefore provides both an excellent starting point for readers interested in exploring eschatological views while also giving readers interested in the specific position of dispensational premillenialism a comprehensive look at that view. It comes recommended, with the caveat of the noted difficulties above. It would be hard to have a better introduction to the issues of Biblical prophecy from a premillennialist perspective than this one. The question remains, however, whether that view is correct. So far as this reader is concerned, that question remains unsettled.

Source

Paul Beware Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody, 2006).

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher My thanks to Moody Books for the opportunity to review the book.. 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular eye towards evaluating not only his arguments, when they are made, but also the way he makes those arguments. I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. Here, I’ll go over Chapter 3: Hell. First, I will outline the chapter, then I will analyze its content. Be sure to check the end of the posts to links for the other posts in this series, as well as a few other links.

Chapter 3: Hell

Outline

Rob Bell begins his discussion of hell by framing it around this issue: “God is loving and kind and full of grace and mercy–unless there isn’t confession and repentance and salvation in this lifetime, at which point God punishes forever. That’s the Christian story, right? Is that what Jesus taught?” (64). In order to answer this question, Bell says, he will show “every single verse in the Bible in which we find the actual word, ‘hell'” (ibid).

In order to do this, he first turns to the Hebrew Scriptures. As he explores these passages, Bell concludes that God has power over life and death and that God is present and involved in life after death. However, the words “life” and “death” have different meaning for the Hebrew Scriptures than we give them, argues Bell. Instead of some kind of fixed point of either being alive or dead, Bell notes that they view life and death as “two ways of being alive” (66). To conclude with his discussion of the Old Testament, Bell sums up: “simply put, the Hebrew commentary on what happens after a person dies isn’t very articulated or defined” (67).

Then, Bell turns to the New Testament. Here, he notes that the word for hell was often “Gehenna,” which in Jesus’ day was a fiery garbage dump (68). Bell skims through a few passages here, simply quoting individual sentences without context. Then he evaluates a few verses related to “Hades,” which Bell argues is “essentially the Greek version of… “Sheol” (69).

Then, Bell turns to a number of stories about using strong language to describe human suffering, with examples from Rwanda, as well as rape, divorce, adultery, etc. Next, he turns to an analysis of Luke 16:19-31, the story of Lazarus and the rich man. He makes much of the notion that the rich man is still alive in the fire, and that he still expects Lazarus to serve him (74ff). His analysis of this story ends with his conclusion: “He [the rich man] fails to love his neighbor… It’s a story about individual sin, but that individual sin leads directly to very real suffering at a societal level. If enough rich men treated enough Lazaruses outside their gates like that, that could conceivably lead to a widening gap between the rich and the poor” (78).

Because of this analysis, Bell argues that “What we see in Jesus’ story… is an affirmation that there are all kinds of hells… There are individual hells… There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously” (79).

After an aside on Jesus’ eschatological warnings as very real and immediate, Bell turns to what seems to be the core of his argument for the chapter. Here I’ll quote at length:

Many people… have only ever heard hell talked about as the place reserved for those who… don’t believe… People who don’t believe the right things…

[I]n reading all of the passages in which Jesus uses the word ‘hell,’ what is so striking is that people believing the right or wrong things isn’t his point… he’s talking about… how [listeners] conduct themselves, how they interact with their neighbors. (82)

Analyzing texts which don’t explicitly discuss hell, but which are taken as teaching on the topic, is the next task Bell turns to. He notes Jesus’ discussion of Sodom and Gomorrah, when Jesus said “It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you.” Bell states, “More bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah? …There’s still hope? And if there’s still hope for Sodom and Gomorrah, what does that say about all of the other Sodoms and Gomorrahs?” (84-85). He then explores the theme of restoration throughout the Bible.

Then, he explores Matthew 25’s passage about the sheep and the goats. He makes much of the Greek word, kolazo. He argues that it could have the meaning of “pruning” rather than punishment, and so “the phrase can mean ‘a period of pruning'” in contrast to “eternal punishment” (91). He puts the possibility forward that this could be “an intense experience of correction” (ibid).

In the next chapter, Bell says he will turn to what happens after we die.

Analysis

Bell shows a great concern for the need to avoid views which ignore hell or desire to cut it out of the picture. There is a tendency towards avoiding a “literal” hell or even pretending the teaching isn’t part of Christianity at all. Bell rightly notes that this cannot be reconciled with Scriptural teaching, and that we need to think on the topic.

Bell’s discussion of “life” and “death” as having implications beyond merely physical death is correct. However, the place he draws it from (the Deuteronomic Code) is a bit strange. The blessings and curses, as well as the choice between “life” and “death” are based on the corporate promises given to the nation of Israel. That’s not to say it doesn’t have individual application, but the way Bell discussed it may cause some confusion.

Properly speaking, Bell’s statement that “there is hell now” seems simply mistaken. The reason is because he makes this as an application to our present lives being hell. No, he doesn’t make this as an analogy, as in our lives are hellish or like hell on earth. Instead, his point seems to be that people, when they are making life-destroying decisions, are currently experiencing the realities of hell. It seems that this may be an unfortunate tie-in to the apparent works righteousness explored in chapter 2.

However, Bell does seem correct at least in part when he asserts that Jesus’ teachings had much to say about the ills of society and how we must work to avoid bringing in even greater suffering through class warfare, independent choices, and the like.

Yet even in this, Bell’s primary points seems to be a kind of works-based righteousness yet again. In contrast to the notion that salvation is based around beliefs [faith?], Bell bases Jesus’ teaching in this area upon the love of neighbor. While this is clearly part of Jesus’ teachings, Bell’s position on this seems to be wrong again. Christ did explicitly teach that right belief [faith] is a criterion for salvation: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. But whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). No, this is not in the context of the verses on “hell,” which was the focus of Bell’s quote above, but the way Bell states his argument makes it sound as though what he has stated is the teaching of Christ on the topic.

This leads us to another overarching problem with Bell’s argument so far: namely, his tendency to atomize the texts he disagrees with in order to filter their teachings through specific texts he uses as control verses. He seems to create a canon-within-the-canon, utilizing certain proof texts as the filter through which he views all other texts. Even worse is the fact that he simply ignores texts which explicitly teach the opposite of what he states.

Bell demonstrates a truly confusing view of Jesus’ statement about Sodom and Gomorrah. Note that Jesus says that it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah; Jesus does not say there is still hope. The text is pretty clear: Sodom and Gomorrah have already been condemned, but those who are rejecting Christ now will be under even worse judgment. I have very serious difficulties seeing any possible way that Bell could realistically conclude that this passage is teaching there is still hope for Sodom and Gomorrah. Instead, Jesus is using those cities as the paradigm example of evil. They are already condemned, and if those who are listening to Jesus at that point do not repent, their condemnation will be worse.

Finally, Bell’s interpretation of kolazo is also problematic. The reason is because he uses a translation from classical Greek as opposed to the Greek used in the New Testament (Koine Greek). He fails to acknowledge that although words can have meanings at one time, that doesn’t seal their possible range of meanings for all time. We can see this in some modern words, like “brave,” which used to mean “cowardly.” The point is that simply having a meaning at some point in time doesn’t make that meaning of a word useful at all other points in time. Furthermore, the meaning for kolazo as “punishment” is attested throughout early Christian literature as well as late classical literature. I tried to find the meaning Bell suggests for the word in a few New Testament lexicons I have sitting on the shelf and failed to find it. They unanimously give “punish” as the only or the primary meaning, and nothing related to pruning or horticulture, as Bell suggests, is even hinted at. I conclude that Bell is mistaken.

Conclusion

Bell gives some important points related to the need to reflect on Jesus’ teaching as well as a right emphasis on the reality of hell. Unfortunately, there are some pretty major exegetical errors found in chapter 3. My study of kolazo suggests that Bell is simply wrong on this topic. His interpretation of the passage related to “Sodom and Gomorrah” is odd, to say the least. Finally, although he doesn’t explicitly state his position, Bell seems to continue to imply that it is our actions, rather than faith, which determine the reality of heaven or hell for our life on earth and in the hereafter.

Next week, we’ll evaluate chapter 4, which is entitled “Does God get what God wants?”

Links

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4– I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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